Friday, September 18, 2009

- Home Sweet Home: Wimberley

We can’t mow our backyard. There is so much loose limestone that the only way to trim the grass is with a weed whacker. Indeed, for the first month and a half, we didn’t even need to do that, given that we arrived at the tail end of a twenty-month drought. But now that it has rained –three days worth of road-closing, flash-flood-warning heavy rain– the temperatures have dropped into the eighties and the grass is growing.

Which is to say, we’ve been outside all week. The house we are renting has sod out front, but no other landscaping to speak of. There is a pile of limestone leftover from the house construction and a lot of bare dirt. So we had a load of mulch delivered and are in the process of moving chunks of limestone from the pile in the backyard to the edge of the cement walkway, which is being trenched and leveled.

We’re doing all of this very carefully, having heard that Texas critters like to hang out in rock piles. So far so good. And we’ve got to make hay while the sun shines, because El Nino is coming. Yes, more rain … in abundance. At least that’s what I’m expecting, having experienced the El Nino of 1998 that dropped so much rain on Virginia that it delayed our move into Hempstead Road. It's true that weather predictions are notoriously unreliable, but we’re taking everyone at their word and getting the soil protected while we can.

Of course, all this yard work requires a tremendous amount of energy (mildly sardonic tone here), giving me just the excuse I needed to dredge up an old favorite from the recipe book. Only what I found was I actually had three versions of Crème Brûlée French Toast, which have been conflated into this fourth and, for now, final version. Crusty on the top and dripping with caramel on the bottom, you won’t need any maple syrup … just a good hot cup of coffee and a way to burn off the calories.

Crème Brûlée French Toast (for two, with leftovers if you’re good)

3-4 cups bread cubes (please use a good crusty loaf, preferably stale)
1 egg and 1 yolk
1/3 cup heavy cream*
2/3 cup milk*
½ tsp vanilla
3 Tbs. butter
1/3 cup brown sugar

Melt the butter and brown sugar.
Pour the caramel-to-be into the bottom of a buttered 1 ½ or 2 quart baking dish.
Whisk together the eggs, milk, cream and vanilla.
Put the bread in the casserole and top with the egg mixture.
Bake in a pre-heated 350 degree oven for half an hour. Take out when golden brown and set.

Decision point: do you want a chewy caramel base or a soft caramel base (as seen here)?
For chewy, just pop the casserole straight into the oven.
For soft, put the casserole in a pie plate in the oven and then add 2 cups of water to the pie plate.
This is a custard, after all, and a water bath will give a gentler set to the end product.

* Note: I have used 1 cup half-and-half (either regular or fat-free) in place of milk and cream. It’s not quite as good, but it gets the job done.

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